Polina on Eminem’s “Legacy” and Songwriting in EDM

Image via Polina
Image via Polina

On 2002′s Eminem Show album, Eminem, in the midst of dance’s last hot mainstream pop era, pointed a now-infamous diss at U.S.-based producer Moby, “it’s over, nobody listens to techno” on lead single “Without Me.” However, in 2013, Eminem’s proclamation has been proven entirely wrong. Dance is back (did it ever leave?) and is stronger than ever before. Intriguingly, if one were to take a close read of the credits of Eminem’s latest album The Marshall Mathers LP 2, you may be shocked to find that dance music has hit closer to home than the Detroit legend probably ever expected. “Legacy” could possibly be one of the album’s biggest songs (and has longtime Eminem fans remembering one of Eminem’s biggest singles, “Stan”), and has a link to dance music. The songwriter, Russian-born and American-based singer/songwriter Polina has a long history with dance. Working with the likes of Kaskade and Tiesto, as well as being credited as a vocalist on Dim Mak releases for Steve Aoki and Felix Cartal, her rap success comes at a time when the two genres – dance and rap – are more alike than dissimilar. I had the chance to talk with her and not just discuss “Legacy,” but talk about songwriting in general, and current trends in EDM. With her own single, “Fade To Love,” coming in late 2013 and an artist EP planned for 2014, she certainly had a plethora of intriguing thoughts and reflections. Enjoy!

How did the songwriting process for Eminem’s “Legacy” occur? Was there anything unique about it?
I had just signed to Ultra Music publishing, and I was doing a lot of dance features and writing at that time. I was in a writing session with a New York [based] writer David Brook. I was like, “let’s not write to a track.” Every song I was writing at that time was like, 130BPM, so I was really burnt out on those. It was like a rainy day, kind of sad, so I decided that we should sit down at a piano and write, the old school way. We started messing around with chords, and “Legacy” came out an hour later. We kind of didn’t know what to do with it. I was doing mostly dance and electronic at that time, and we just kind of ended up with “Legacy.” Everyone loved it, but we were just sitting on it for a few months. Eventually, I was sitting in the office of Interscope executive Neil Jacobson in LA, and I played him the song, because he mentioned he was working on the Eminem record. He listened to it for a few seconds and was like, “this is an Eminem record. Don’t play this for anyone.” He sent the song to Emile Haney, who’s worked with Eminem before, Kanye, and lots of great artists. A week later, I went into the studio with him and he added some production to the song, and we sent it to Eminem. We heard back as soon as we sent it that they loved it, and they put it on hold so Eminem could cut verses to it.

A lot of people compare “Legacy” to “Stan” due to the melodic nature of the piano. Were you aware of “Stan” when you wrote “Legacy?”
I was still a teenager growing up in Moscow when “Stan” came out. ["Stan"] was my introduction to Eminem as an artist. [I was already a] really big fan of Dido, and I became an even bigger fan of Eminem. Obviously, melodically when David and I sat down to write the song we didn’t have the slightest clue of where the song was going to end up. I think that melodically, me growing up in Europe – though I’ve lived in the States since I was 16 – I think I have some more melodic influences from that area of the world. ["Stan"] was not an influence going in, but now that the album’s out, I’m glad that everyone likes it and is making the comparison. It’s a great honor to see legacy compared to that song.

Given that Eminem once said [while bashing Moby] on “Without Me” that “nobody listens to techno,” someone with your dance music background contributing such a major song to Eminem’s album is intriguing, and maybe even funny. I wanted to get your thoughts about the similarities and differences in writing for EDM versus writing for rap, or if those even exist? 
Those who know me from my work in the EDM world – especially my collaborations with Steve Aoki, Tiesto and Kaskade – probably think that I’m stepping out of the genre. But in all reality this Eminem song is coming back to where I started as a songwriter. For me, I don’t think Eminem was aware of who I was when I wrote “Legacy” (laughter). It is kind of ironic that I came from that dance world and ended up on this record. It all comes down to, whether it’s dance music or hip-hop, it all comes down to emotion and the song connecting. I think that something connected to Eminem when he heard it, and at the end of the day it’s definitely all about great music. Whether it’s a banger or a number one commercial ballad, it’s all about [the song] coming from a real place.

Connected to the last question, what are your thoughts about the importance of songwriting in EDM at-the-moment?
It’s interesting. As someone who works a lot in the EDM world, for the last three or four years, I’ve seen the tendency in people to hit me up and send 40 tracks a week, [with the demand being] “write to my track.” Now, the DJs and artists in the EDM world are asking for songs, [the demand being] “send me a song, and I will produce it.” There has been a shift in DJs and artists in that world understanding the importance of a song. It’s about the longevity of records as well. A lot of these dance songs that are out now are essentially ballads if you took away the beat. They’re just great songs. It’s refreshing. It’s a shift for the better.

What have been some of your favorite experiences to-date working in the EDM world? What have you learned the most from working with DJs and producers?
I’ve been fortunate to perform on the main stage at Ultra Music Festival, TomorrowLand, and Electric Zoo. I’ve also done part of an East Coast tour with Steve Aoki, which was fun because Steve puts on an amazing show. I think Ultra and TomorrowLand were the best. Nothing compares to these festivals, the excitement from the fans and the energy you get back from them. Something that I learned from DJs? Hmmmm…here’s a funny one. I did a show with Steve Aoki in Atlantic City and he taught me how to play blackjack! How’s that?

Any advice for DJs and producers who are looking to work with a singer/songwriter?
To be honest with you, there are two kind of DJs. There are those who are hands on with their records. They have themes, and they have people around them who help with the making of the record. For me, a very small percentage of the records were made with the DJ in the room. I usually get a track from someone, and then I go into my studio, write a top line, cut the vocals, sometimes engineer the vocals myself, pre-mix them, I send them back, and then they put them on the track. It’s great when some of the guts are open to really working together. There are some things that only the DJ will know works on the dance floor, works in a festival setting. As songwriters and feature vocalists, we know what works best on the radio, so it’s kind of a combination. We have to bring what we know best. However, everything is shifting and emerging. What works at a festival and what works on the radio has been coming closer together. DJs and producers should overall just have a musical knowledge of how to produce a record, how to analyze a song and overall just being a good musician, that’s always a plus.